We’re proud to present the 1st in a series of monthly articles by Keith Baker. Best known for creating the Eberron Campaign Setting for Dungeons & Dragons and the card game Gloom he’s also worked on at least five games that you’ve never heard of. Yet.
Question: My DM has decided to implement a house rule, where we don’t know how many hit points our pc’s have at any given time. Instead, he will track them, and describe to us how badly we’re hurt, and how badly we get hit, without using numbers. He believes it will “increase the drama and tension,” which it will. He says he’s doing this because “knowing that the bad guys are hitting you for 15 damage on average, and knowing that, at 38 HP, you can take another hit before you need to heal is meta-gaming,” and he’s on a huge quest to destroy any meta-gaming.
Granted, any meta that goes on is our fault as players, but I cannot accept his argument. Knowing how many HP you have, and how much damage you’re taking, isn’t meta-gaming. It’s a vital part of the tactical aspect of the game.
Just so you know, we’re playing 4e, half of us have played for years together, and the other half are rpg newbies.
-Shawn Klaus from Tacoma, WA
Hi Shawn. I can see the argument for adding a little mystery to combat by removing precise hit point values. If I went down this path in my game, I might use a system where I told you your status on the following chart:
Bruised 99% – 76%
Battered 75% – 51%
Bloodied 50% – 26%
Beaten 25% – 6%
Critical 5% – 1%
This provides a range, but still lets you know roughly how hurt you are. If you’re Beaten, you might be at 25%… but you still know that you can use a power that lets you spend two healing surges without wasting effort.
Of course… that last sentence is, itself, may be the metagaming your DM is trying to avoid. You quoted him as saying “knowing that, at 38 HP, you can take another hit before you need to heal is meta-gaming.” So it sounds like he doesn’t want you to know you can use two healing surges without wasted effort.
D&D is designed to be a precise tactical game. From the very beginning, the cleric had to decide whether to use Cure Light Wounds, Cure Serious Wound, or Heal – choosing which limited resources to expend based on his knowledge of the condition of his allies. If you take that information away, you add mystery, but you also add a level of frustration as players feel they don’t have the ability to make sensible choices. You also run the risk that they will be unable to face the challenges the system assigns to them based on level – because the system assumes that they are operating with full tactical knowledge.
Personally, if I was concerned about players getting too confident or metagaming, I’d shake things up in a different way – by having opponents who are difficult to predict. Some enemies might deal more damage based on circumstance: additional damage if you’re prone, if you’re bloodied, if you’re granting combat advantage. Opponents could be given more encounter powers – you think the creature’s average damage is 15, but that’s because he hasn’t used his double-damage mighty thrust yet. If this sort of thing is relatively common, you know you can’t rely on past rounds to predict future damage – but you are also capable of evaluating the injuries that you’ve taken and reacting accordingly.
Ultimately, though, there’s a bigger issue here. It doesn’t matter who you ask: no authority can tell your DM his house rule is wrong. He’s the DM. He gets to make the rules. If your group is unhappy with the rules, you need to sit down as a group and explain that to the DM. He’s trying to wipe out metagaming. If you feel that you need enough knowledge to make solid tactical decisions, and that if this is stripped away you won’t enjoy the game any more, then you need to tell him exactly that. When we game, we all sacrifice our time, player and DM alike. We do it to have fun together. The rules should facilitate that, not get in the way. If a particular rule is making people miserable, it’s worth trying to find a better way.
With that said, sometimes there isn’t a better way. I myself once gave up on a group because their style of play was incompatible with my style of DMing. I could force them to play my way and they wouldn’t enjoy it, or I could give them what they wanted and I wouldn’t enjoy it. Neither of us were doing anything wrong, and we’re still friends outside the table; we simply had different tastes in gaming, and in the end those differences were irreconcilable. I found a different set of players who like the way I run games, and they found another DM; everyone is happier.
Hopefully your situation won’t come to that. Just how set is your DM on abolishing metagaming? Does he understand that he’s making you frustrated as opposed to increasing your enjoyment of the game? Is he willing to work with you? Communication is critical; hopefully once your DM understands your frustration, you can work together to find a mutually satisfying solution.
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